Some Wild Visions: Autobiographies by Female Itinerant Evangelists in Nineteenth-Century America

By Elizabeth Elkin Grammer | Go to book overview

2
Feverish Restlessness and Mighty Movement
Female Evangelists in the Marketplace of Salvation

For no rest can I find in body or mind, but in the place I took when my soul was liberated from condemnation the second time, which is to use my hands in wielding the quill, my tongue in sounding salvation publicly; and devoting my soul, body, and spirit, entirely to the dear Redeemer of them all.

Harriet Livermore, A Narration of Religious Experience in Twelve Letters

What had I on earth to do

With the slothful, with the mawkish, the unmanly?

Robert Browning, “Asolando”

Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.

Daniel 12:4

At the beginning of her Religious Experience, Jarena Lee describes her conversion as a contest between action and passivity. Passivity, she tells her readers, is a condition of sinfulness. Paralyzed by “the weight of [her] sins” and “not knowing how to run immediately to the Lord for help, [she] was driven of Satan, in the course of a few days, and tempted to destroy [herself]” (4, emphasis added). Passivity in the matter of salvation is dangerous business: it leaves one vulnerable to the actions of Satan. “To run” is to take charge, to educate herself about the new dispensation, to seek “a knowledge of the being and character of the Son of God” (8).

And having learned to run, she appears reluctant ever to stop. Lee must have taken seriously the words of Isaiah, who said, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace… that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!” (Isaiah 52:7, emphasis added). “Who knows, ” Frederick Buechner writes, “in what inspired way the heart, mind, spirit of the herald came to receive the good tidings of peace and salvation in the first place, but as to the question whether he would actually do something about them—put his money where his mouth was, his shoe leather where his inspiration was—his feet were the ones that finally had to decide. Maybe it is always so” (Wishful Thinking 31). Lee's feet, her autobiography suggests, had clearly decided. She reminds us, on almost every page, how far her feet carried her during a particular day. She writes on one occasion, for example, “From this place I walked twentyone miles, and preached with difficulty to a stiff-necked and rebellious people” (23). Lee was evidently fascinated by her mileage totals and had no doubt that her readers would

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